Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dorothea Tanning

In a marriage made in heaven, Tate Modern gives Dorothea Tanning her first retrospective in 25 years, meaning her first posthumous one. Born in 1910, Tanning only died in 2012, her life and career spanning the 20th century, with all that implies. The exhibit is a wide-ranging delight, offering eight generous rooms encompassing 100 works.

Children's Games, D. Tanning
 I found myself wandering open-mouthed through the space, agog at her wild imagination. I had seen her works online but never in-person and found standing inches away from the oil paintings an illuminating experience. Who knew Children's Games (1942) was so tiny? Such detail and such emotional power in a painting smaller than an A4 notebook. And side-by-side with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943) a more spacious work connected by the grouping of transfixed girls in tattered clothing. The two could be scenes in the same film. Interestingly, they also connect with a later work in a different room, Maternity (1946-47), with its spaced-out mother, babe in arms and their human-faced dog. With this, Tanning carried Surrealism into the post-war years.

Even decades later she was still offering jarring juxtapositions with her fabric sculptures. These were displayed across one large room but several were encased or placed in corners, which my friend K., a sculptor, found irritating, as sculpture should be seen from all sides. The ones that were presented in the round were extraordinary. The giant Pincushion to Serve as Fetish (1979) looked like a spiny shark to me, beached on a low plinth. Other works offered variations on two figures embracing or wrestling or fighting. One is not sure. I found it to be quite contemporary, suggesting nightmares, dystopias and dysfunctional relationships. Stranger Things, indeed.

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